My friend Carl first convinced me to read Among Others by Jo Walton with his blog review. He loves Among Others so much that he’s immediately rereading it, this time aloud to his wife. To further explain why the book is so important to him, he compares the story to the friends he’s made in the Classic Science Fiction Book Club in his post “A Karass.” With that kind of personal impact how could I not immediately go buy a copy and read it – which is exactly what I did.
Jo Walton has written a creative fictionalized memoir about two troubled years in the life of Morweena Phelps, that may or may not be autobiographical with her own life. Mori, as she wants to be known to her friends, loves libraries and reading, especially science fiction and fantasy, and uses books to stabilize her connection with reality, which strangely enough includes fairies and magic. Mori is psychologically damaged by family tragedies and through making friends with other science fiction fans begins a healing process. I can completely identify with Mori from my own teen years as a bookworm. I had alcoholic parents that should have made me remember growing up as a miserable time, but I don’t. I loved childhood because I used science fiction to create my own happiness and stability.
I say it’s a fictionalized memoir because Among Others is written as a diary starting Wednesday 5th September 1979 and runs through Wednesday 20th February 1980, with a tantalizing glimpse from 1975 as an intro. It feels like a real memoir except that in Mori’s world magic is real, or is it? Morwenna Phelps, Walton’s alter ego, has the ability to use magic to influence people and talk to fairies. Phelps, like Walton comes from Wales, but is forced to attend a boarding school in England. The fictional story is about a young girl running away from her mother after her twin is killed and living with her estranged father. Mori is a bookworm of the first order, and is pleasantly surprised to find that her father is a science fiction fan with a large library. As an emotional outsider, Mori has trouble getting close to people until she meets a small group of science fiction fans that meet at a library near her posh boarding school.
Now, this is how I grew up, being an outcast until I met other SF fans, and how many science fiction fans also grew up. Aren’t we all outcasts until we meet our others? To make Among Others even more endearing to the science fiction and fantasy fan, Mori liberally references the books she and her friends are reading, and all too often I have read these books. And I felt particularly close to her when refers to Empire Star by Samuel R. Delany several times as one of her favorites. It’s a particular favorite of mine too. Walton has a blog at Tor.com where she’s written over 500 posts, most of them reviewing SF/F books, including Empire Star.
I recommend reading Among Others if you are a science fiction fan, or are a hardcore bookworm, or if you grew up as an outsider. And after you read Among Others, I recommend that you should follow Walton’s Live Journal blog where she talks about her writing, reactions to this book, and even gives sales information. So far she’s sold 864 copies. Walton also maintains a FAQ about Among Others, where visitors can post questions and comments. This all makes for a wonderful meta-fiction quality to the story. It’s sort of like the literary fun of finding the James Joyce in Stephen Dedalus.
Like Carl, I’m already ready to reread Among Others, but I’m hoping for an audio book edition. Science fiction is often accused of being very unliterary, and Among Others is a literary look at science fiction and fantasy readers. And for me the very best way to appreciate writing is by listening to it read by a great narrator. I don’t know if Walton is successful enough yet to have her books to come out on audio, but the buzz this book is getting should help. Audible, are you listening?
JWH – 2/13/11
7 thoughts on “Among Others by Jo Walton”
Jo Walton is also one of the more prolific bloggers on Tor.com.
I guess I should read your full post before I post comments, eh? 🙂
Great review Jim. I found my way over to your blog from the Classic SF book club.
Carl V. lent me his copy of this book a week ago and I just finished it last night. It was an amazing book that I intended to go out and by my own copy of for future rereading myself.
I really liked this book… I wanted to like it even more, it was so promising, but in the end I felt it let me down. What could have been a great story turned out to be more like Mary Sue fan fiction.
What I wanted (and here come the spoilers) was that:
-The existence of magic remained ambiguous
-The climax to be a revelation of what really happened when the protagonist’s twin died (I don’t remember their names…Mor?)
-The “karass”, the community of friends turned out to be really important in the protagonist’s life (they end up being dressing that makes her feel a bit better). In unexpected ways.
-I wanted the protagonist to have real relationships with those in her karass. It would have been so much more powerful if she could have helped them all, with random acts, in unexpected ways.
Summarizing, I wanted it to be more like “Buffy”, and less self-centered.
The good part: Jo Walton had me when the protagonist finds two, no, three Brunners she hadn’t read in her father’s library. All the mentions of SF and fantasy literature (although she lumps them all under the scifi label!) brought close to home the feeling of meeting the people I belong to. The tribal subculture of the (sf)geeks. That was extremely well done. It reminded me how I felt at home in a distant land (BSFDG group!).